An Early Spring at NKE

As I write this, we’re just getting past two weeks of frigid temps and a fresh snowfall. But behind the scenes at school, our minds are focused on creating an early spring inside the classrooms at NKE. This year, for the first time, we have many classes who will be doing seed-starting projects using grow lights.

SeedlingGrowLightEverything from pumpkins and peppers to kohlrabi and cabbage can be easily started inside, some as early as March. The classes will nurture the seedlings until they are ready to be planted in our raised beds in the Arboretum. We also have new raised beds slated for construction first thing this spring in the outdoor education space between NKE and PVE.

This effort was initially inspired by a grant we received from the Wisconsin Medical Society Foundation supporting gardening at school. Part of that grant went to buying seed-starting kits. As it turns out, we have so much interest we are dedicating money from the NKE Arboretum fund-raising to buying enough kits so all interested classes can participate in this fun, engaging project.

If you would like to support the NKE Arboretum projects, we always welcome help! We meet the first Mondays of the month at 5 p.m. at school, and you can make a monetary (tax-deductible) donation by going to www.nkearboretum.org and clicking on “How to Donate.” Keep an eye out for our first spring volunteer day announcement, too (follow us on Facebook to find out dates as they are planned).

The Amazing Impact of Learning Outside

NKEArb2015-SensoryWritingFor many people, it’s common sense that outdoor education—letting our children learn outside the confines of the classroom—is beneficial for learning. (When you have a wiggly little kindergartner like mine, that’s a no-brainer.) But there is a great body of research supporting this idea, too, and it shows benefits far beyond just science and environmental education. Here are some interesting facts from that research (thanks to the website classroominnature.weebly.com, which has a great compilation of research on this topic).

  • In one study it was found that when the outdoors was used as a learning environment, there was an increase of 73% “… in the understanding of mathematical concepts and content,” along with a 92% increase in mastery of math skills, and an 89% increase in enthusiasm for studying math.
  • A cross-cultural research study found that the single-most important factor in developing personal concern for the environment was positive experiences in the outdoors during childhood.
  • Outdoor education classrooms are important to supporting the multiple intelligences of all children and are exceptionally suited for meeting the needs of children with emotional and behavioral challenges.
    The bond between an adult and child, along with a child and the environment, is strengthened when an outdoor classroom is used. These bonds help support learning problem-solving skills.
  • Outdoor classroom experiences can lead to gains in social development. Children more easily move away from confrontation with peers in an outdoor environment and are less likely to display lack of cooperation, frustration, and annoyance. Even more, it was found that adults may actually relate differently to children when in an outdoor environment. This is because students are allowed to move more freely and make noise while outside, as compared to inside where they are expected to sit still and remain quiet.
  • While outdoors in nature, a child is more likely to encounter opportunities for decision-making that stimulate problem-solving and creative thinking because outdoor spaces are often more varied and less structured than indoor spaces and induce curiosity and the use of imagination.
  • Not only does the outdoor classroom provide children an opportunity to investigate the natural world, it allows for an environment to conduct group activities where the development of knowledge can occur. Specific skills and concepts are developed in this outdoor environment that connect with authentic, purposeful, and real-life objectives.

These are just a small sampling of the benefits that have been demonstrated. At NKE, we are fortunate to have a wonderful Nature Explore-certified Arboretum outdoor classroom, as well as the new outdoor learning area between NKE and PVE. If you would like to help support the development of either area, we welcome your input! To get involved, please contact Principal Chris Kluck. If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation supporting the NKE Arboretum, you can find the donation form on our website here.

Our Big Compost Project

1-16-PullingLeavesWe are extraordinarily proud that in late fall 2015, we were able to restart our cafeteria composting program at NKE. As of mid-December, after only about two months, we had already composted 300 gallons of food scraps from the cafeteria. That is a huge quantity of waste being kept out of the landfill!

Basically at lunch we are collecting fruit, vegetables (the “green” items) and brown napkins. The leaves, pine needles and twigs from the arboretum serve as our “brown” materials and we throw that on top to cover the lunch scraps. The 4th grade service committee members have been taking out the food scraps to the compost bins that were built with NKE Arboretum fund-raising money next to the garage. Some 3rd graders helped rake the Arboretum and haul more leaves to the compost bins to refresh our “brown” supply.

Going forward we are still working to find more adults to take the compost out with the students. (There are many kids who can’t wait to take it out!) We can’t wait to show the kids the gorgeous “dirt” created from their lunchroom scraps.

If you’re interested in learning more about composting, you can check out this useful UW Extension resource.

 

Outdoor Learning Growing at NKE

10-15-KidsVeggiesFoodPantryIt seems at least once a week there is a new study released demonstrating the positive effects of nature on our lives, whether it is more trees in our neighborhoods leading to less depression or children learning better when they are able to be outside. Here is just a sample of interesting stats:

• Simply spending time outside with nature contributes to increased energy, wards off feelings of exhaustion, and results in a heightened sense of well-being.

• Having a school garden changes eating habits, improves test scores and promotes physical activity, among many other benefits.

• Having vegetation around schools cuts down on air pollution and boosts memory and attention.

• Schools with learning gardens have less teacher turnover.

• Outdoor education classrooms are important to supporting the multiple intelligences of all children, and they are exceptionally suited for meeting the needs of children with emotional and behavioral challenges.

• The single most important factor in developing personal concern for the environment is having positive experiences in the outdoors during childhood.

Here at NKE we are extraordinarily fortunate that now we have not one, but two spaces dedicated to outdoor learning. We have a certified outdoor classroom—the NKE Arboretum—literally within the walls of our school. And now, thanks to the recent referendum, we also have a new outdoor classroom where there recently was an expanse of pavement between NKE and PVE. These spaces are both works in progress. If you are interested in getting involved with continuing improvements in any way, whether you have a great idea for a new project, you are an artist who might be interested in helping create an art installation, or you just love to push wheelbarrows of mulch (hey, it’s possible), please get in touch by emailing Principal Chris Kluck. In the meantime, you can keep tabs on what is going on in the NKE Arboretum by following us on Facebook. Hope to see you soon!

Teaching Healthy Food Choices

Last week my daughter, Elizabeth, came home from school one day, read a list of ingredients on a snack and told her little brother it was good that it didn’t have any high fructose corn syrup! It certainly caught my attention, and it made sense when I found out that a community educator from Stoughton Hospital had been to school to teach the kids about healthy food choices.

This connection came about through a partnership with Stoughton Hospital, which committed to be a “Visionary” supporter (donating at least $1,000) of the NKE Arboretum. As part of our school’s relationship with Stoughton Hospital, educators promote the hospital’s mission of encouraging healthy living in their community.

According to Stoughton Hospital’s Autumn Kumlien, the goals of the education for our NKE students are:

1) Teach children how to make healthful food choices and detect marketing deceptions.

2) Give children the opportunity to practice what they have learned.

3) Empower children to share their “detective skills” with other family members.

Stoughton Hospital uses a program called Nutrition Detectives™, which is geared specifically at elementary school children. Developed by Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, with his wife, Catherine Katz, PhD., it shows the children five clues to use when making food choices. They are great clues for all of us to keep in mind, no matter how old we are! Those five clues are:

1) Don’t be fooled by the big letters on the front of the package. Look for the itty-bitty letters on the food label instead.

2) The first ingredient on the list is always the biggest.

3) Avoid partially hydrogenated oil and high fructose corn syrup. It’s like finding Waldo!

4) Avoid foods with a long ingredient list.

5) Fiber is your friend! Beware of whole-grain imposters. Choose breads, cereals, cereal bars, crackers and pasta with at least 2 grams of fiber.

 Thanks to Stoughton Hospital for supporting our school, our students and our initiatives for outdoor education!

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